Reflection on Revelation Chapter 1 from Morning Prayer 23rd August 2020
I have a confession to make, I am a great fan of crime fiction. I love a good mystery and of course in Scotland we have some of the best crime writers although my favourite detective remains Hercules Poirot, played of course by David Suchet. Mysteries that involve code breaking are always good fun and provide a bit of cognitive exercise – could I have worked at Bletchley Park – sadly no, I’m really not very good at it!
Our reading this morning opens the book of Revelation, often viewed as one of the most mysterious, disturbing and impenetrable books of Scripture. It has been viewed as a code that is there to be broken leading to much manipulation of the numbers and words with the aim of rewarding the code breaker with the answer – to what? The answer of course depends on when it is being read – medieval, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th or 21st century – current events can be linked to the revelation in the book. John, however, was writing in a particular style of his day and would be understood by the people who heard it at that time. The writing is in part prophetic, but that is not to be understood as simply predicting what is to come. Prophesy encompasses close observation of what is happening today whenever that “today” is! It provides a commentary on what is happening and can open the eyes of the listeners and readers to the challenges around them. The style of writing is apocalyptic meaning revelation. It does deal with the end of times and the return of Christ and the last judgement, but it does not provide a detailed timetable of future events, as one commentator states, “rather it affirms, in powerful poetic and pictorial language, that the final victory of God is indeed coming… and calls the church to live in the light of Christ”(1).
John shares with us and with the Church in the first century and down the ages his visions which he has reflected upon in the light of a rich knowledge of Old Testament Scripture and in the love of God through Christ Jesus.
Another commentator explains that at its heart this book is about something that God has revealed to Jesus, verse 1 “the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him”, which Jesus passes on to John through an angel and John passes on to the church of his day and through the Bible to the Church down the ages and in the future (2). God reveals to Jesus who is himself one with God; the word is given to John, the Word who is Jesus. This word is shared with the church, the body of Christ in the world.
Revelation is often that book at the end that of the bible that we never quite get round to looking at because it’s too difficult, it’s all in code, it’s weird and doesn’t fit in our 21st century rational life. But here in the first chapter, indeed even in the first verse, we see that John shares with us an understanding of God. As we read these verses we are there in the presence of God. We move from our limited knowledge and experience, our linear sense of time into the great mystery of the love of God ,who was and is and is to come. Jesus is revealed to us interceding with the Father on our behalf, but not as the priests of the old testament would intercede because the sacrifice that Jesus makes on our behalf is the sacrifice of himself made once and for all. Like Moses Jesus speaks God’s word, but unlike Moses, Jesus is the living Word.
I am no biblical scholar and I confess to being somewhat daunted by Revelation and I have often tried and failed to work with the text, but sitting down with it today, I have found great words of comfort right at the start in chapter 1, verse 17, “…Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last and the living one”.
There is a vibrancy and immediacy in the writing. There is a timelessness with the images from past millennia, the observation of today (first century and 24th august 2021) and the contemplation of the end of time. There is huge comfort that God in Jesus Christ was there, is here and will be there. The world has changed, how we perceive church has changed this year, but God is central and Jesus love is eternal and the Spirit will lead us. I invite you to have a go at reading chapter 1 in the week ahead and let’s see what God teaches us all through His word.
Father, as you speak to us through your word, give us grace to understand it, to live by it and to share it with others, Amen
- Revelation: the people’s Bible commentary. Marcus Maxwell BRF 2005
- Revelation for everyone Tom Wright SPCK 2011